Wheatsheaf Inn, Northleach, Gloucestershire
Northleach is a beautiful town that got rich on the wool trade. Medieval travellers would rest and recuperate at its pub, the Wheatsheaf, with a meal and a drink or two. Today, it aims to provide a country-house hotel experience, but for half the price and without the formality, to a clientele that is rather more rock’n’roll. Kate Moss parked guests here for her wedding, and John Lydon stayed while recording an album nearby. Perhaps with this kind of patron in mind, the Wheatsheaf’s breakfast buffet includes a jar labelled “pharmacy”, filled with aspirin and paracetamol. If you like the countryside with a bit of edge, this is the place. You don’t need to be a hell raiser, though. We took our young daughter, behaved as well as we could, and look forward to going back soon. Ten miles from Cheltenham, it’s handy for next month’s literary festival and the start of the jump-racing season.
There are 14 bedrooms, all with big beds and rich linen. The decor is expensive, but true to the Cotswold charm of the building — in our room, the upholstery came in tweed. Yet here, too, the Wheatsheaf was edgy: an alarming shot of Jack Nicholson hung on one wall. In the bathroom, we had not only a large shower, but a freestanding pewter bath. The toiletries came in generous bottles that made us feel welcome to stay for weeks. There was no full-length mirror, until we asked for one, and no kettle — but tea and coffee are brought up to your room on request, at no extra charge. All rooms have Bang & Olufsen TVs, with Sky, and the wi-fi is free.
It was unpretentious, sourced locally, delicious and generous. I wolfed down the tender calf’s liver, while Mrs F ate guinea fowl. For Miss F, the restaurant cooked a steak, even though it wasn’t on the children’s menu. The owner, Sam Pearman, trained as a chef at Langan’s Brasserie, in Mayfair, then moved front of house at the Michelin-starred Glass House, in Kew. And in a former life at the Clarence Hotel, in Dublin, the Wheatsheaf’s executive chef, Antony Ely, cooked for Bono, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. The dining room is overseen by 1920s portraits of the Wills tobacco family, who seemed not to be bothered by the reggae playing while we ate. Staff, in shirts and jeans, are friendly and relaxed, but know their stuff. As well as 400 wines — at least 15 of them available by the glass — the pub has excellent beers. A rudimentary breakfast buffet of fruit, cereal and toast (and optional headache cures) is included in the price of your room, but if you want a full English, you pay extra (£9).
What else to do?:
The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival (October 5-14) features Roger Moore, Caitlin Moran and David Walliams (cheltenhamfestivals.com). The Cheltenham racing season gets under way on October 19 (cheltenham.co.uk). The pub can arrange shooting on beautiful private estates and fishing on the River Coln. Less than an hour’s drive from the Wheatsheaf, you’ll find the Forest of Dean, Chedworth Roman Villa, Sudeley Castle and Blenheim Palace. Alternatively, walk to the neighbouring village’s church, which was painted by a Victorian vicar in a “medieval” style, to the great dismay of his parishioners. If you can’t be bothered to go even that far, book a massage or facial in the Wheatsheaf’s spa/treatment room.
579 words. First published 23 September 2012. © Times Newspapers Ltd.